NBA Playoff Preview – Cleveland vs. New Jersey
(Sports Network) – The second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and the sixth-seeded
New Jersey Nets battle for the right to play in the Eastern Conference finals,
as the teams square off in a best-of-seven playoff series.
This is the third time the Cavaliers and New Jersey are meeting in the
postseason. Cleveland defeated the Nets twice in the first round. The Cavs
knocked out the Nets in four, 3-1, in 1992 and in five, 3-2, in 1993.
Cleveland owns the home-court advantage in this semifinals set.
The Cavaliers swept the seventh-seeded Washington Wizards in the opening round
of the postseason. Superstar LeBron James, who has made his second trip to the
playoffs, led the Cavaliers in scoring (27.8 ppg) and assists (7.5 apg), while
center Zydrunas Ilgauskas averaged 19.0 points and a team-high 11.0 rebounds
Larry Hughes, who completed his second season with Cleveland, posted 19.0
points, 6.8 boards and 2.8 assists in round one for the Cavaliers, who
surrendered over 100 points just once in the four-game sweep over the injury-
depleted Wizards. Forward Drew Gooden also had a strong series, as he compiled
14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per games versus Washington, which fell for the
second straight year to the Cavaliers in the postseason.
Head coach Mike Brown did another solid job in his second season as
Cleveland’s general. Brown, who earned a championship ring as an assistant
with San Antonio in 2003, is 11-6 in the postseason.
Cleveland is 2-2 all-time in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Cavaliers
defeated Washington in seven games in 1976 and beat the Celtics in seven in
1992. They were swept by the Bulls in 1993 and lost in seven to Detroit last
New Jersey knocked out the third-seeded Toronto Raptors, who won the Atlantic
Division during the regular season, in six games in the first round. Point
guard Jason Kidd shined against the Raptors, as he averaged 14.0 points, 10.0
rebounds and 13.2 assists per game.
Former Raptor Vince Carter led the team in scoring (25.0 ppg) and also grabbed
6.2 rebounds and dished out 4.0 assists in the opening round, while Richard
Jefferson, who made the game-winning layup in Game 6 against Toronto, posted
21.5 points and 5.0 boards.
Nets head coach Lawrence Frank, who took over on the Nets’ bench during the
2003-04 season, is a workaholic who spends a long hours studying film and
coming up with game plans. He will have his club prepared, but will have to
figure out how to contain James and take Ilgauskas, Gooden and Hughes off
their games. Frank owns a 16-16 record in the postseason.
The Nets have lost their last two trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
They were ousted in seven by Detroit in 2004 and in five by Miami last season.
New Jersey is 2-3 all-time in the East semis.
New Jersey, which lost to Milwaukee, 4-2, in the 1984 East semis, did defeat
the Charlotte Hornets, 4-1, in the 2002 semifinals and the Celtics, 4-0, in
2003. The Nets are 2-0 in the conference finals and 0-2 in the NBA Finals.
During the regular season, the Cavaliers won two of three meetings with the
Nets. Cleveland won a pair at Quicken Loans Arena, while the Nets defeated the
Cavaliers, 113-111, on December 2006 at Continental Airlines Arena.
STARTING FRONTCOURT: James, who pulled down 8.5 boards per contests against
the Wizards, shot just 42.5 percent from the field in the first round. He has
been trying to keep his teammates involved, which will take pressure off him
if they produce. Bottom line, the Cavaliers are going only as far as James can
Gooden and Ilgauskas team with LeBron to give the Cavaliers an excellent
frontcourt. Ilgauskas and Gooden are off to strong starts in the postseason,
and it must continue if Cleveland wants to get back to East Finals for the
first time since 1992 when it lost in six to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
Both players are effective from 15-feet and in, but Brown needs them to do
their best work around the hoop.
Jason Collins, Jefferson and Mikki Moore will have to work hard this series.
Jefferson will try and keep James from burning the Nets, while Collins and
Moore will try and be physical and push Ilgauskas and Gooden away from the
The Cavaliers are too strong for the Nets in this matchup. James will deal
with Jefferson and Carter, but will still get his big stats. Gooden and
Ilgauskas have a big advantage over the opposition, and will have to take
control of the low post.
STARTING BACKCOURT: Brown has been using Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic as his
starting backcourt. Hughes is versatile, plays solid defense and is effective
in transition, while the 6-7 Pavlovic, who registered 7.3 points, 2.8 rebounds
and 2.3 assists in the quarterfinals, is tough to matchup with because of his
Moving Pavlovic, who started 28 games during the regular season and all four
versus the Wizards, into the starting lineup has helped cause matchup problems
in the backcourt for Cleveland’s opponents. Hughes needs to continue to score,
which makes James’ life easier and opens up the floor for his teammates.
Carter and Kidd own this matchup. Kidd was all over the court against Toronto
and had complete control of the series, while Carter has been knocking down
his outside jumper which makes him very hard to stop when he decides to put
the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop.
Hughes will defend Carter and will make him work hard for his points, while
Pavlovic’s size will be a big help on Kidd. However, Carter and Kidd are
simply more talented than Hughes and Pavlovic.
BENCH: The Cavaliers rely heavily on their starters to win games for them.
Veterans Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall still have some productive games left
in them, while big man Anderson Varejao and rookie guard Daniel Gibson were
productive in the first round.
Cleveland will need more production in this round from its bench. Marshall
only played in three of the games against the Wizards and averaged just 2.0
points, while Snow played about 19 minutes per contest and did not impress
anyone with his performance.
Gibson is athletic and can play both guard spots. When Varejao is on the
court, he is expected to bang down low and get garbage points. Both players
add energy and will get important minutes in this series.
Like the Cavaliers, the Nets are going to win with the performance of their
starters. Bostjan Nachbar did a nice job off the bench against Toronto. The
6-9 Nachbar drained the outside jumper and can play both forward positions for
Rookies Josh Boone and Marcus Williams saw some action in round one, while
veteran Clifford Robinson should see more time against Cleveland than he did
versus the Raptors.
There is no doubt that the reserves will not decide the outcome of this
series. Call it even.
PREDICTION: The Cavaliers are well rested and will be ready to go. James can
smell his first trip the Eastern Conference finals. Carter and Kidd will do
their best to get the Nets back to the East finals for the first time since
2003, but it won’t be enough.
CAVALIERS IN SIX